Antwerp/Paris Working Group

Autumn 1885-early 1888

In Nuenen, Van Gogh reached an impasse in his studies of figures and colour. Feeling a profound need for a more artistically inspiring setting, he moved to Antwerp in late 1885 to study figure drawing at the city’s art academy. Seeing old master paintings inspired him to brighten his colour palette and adopt a freer style of painting.

Under the tutelage of Fernand Cormon in Paris, Van Gogh continued striving for better control of the human figure (its proportions and anatomy) in drawings and paintings. Ultimately, the most important thing he learned there was what did not interest him. There was a stark contrast between his technique and the conventional approach taught to young artists, which rejected emphatic modelling in favour of gradual transitions between light and dark.

In Paris, Van Gogh developed into a modern artist, thanks to his contacts with many other artists and the opportunity to study original works of art. He modernised his palette, painted with thinned oils for a while (like Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec), worked in the Pointillist style for a few months (under the influence of Paul Signac), and experimented with a variety of supports and grounds, in search of a matt appearance for his paintings. This was one way in which the avant-garde sought to break with the academic tradition.

Because it was mainly in his paintings that Van Gogh sought to achieve an artistic breakthrough, he put less effort into drawing during his Paris period. But a new working method is visible in his watercolours and coloured crayon drawings.